With the WBENC 2016 National Conference & Business Fair coming up next week, I wanted to share the five-step strategy for success I’ve practiced over the years to get the most out of conferences and maximize the business and networking opportunities they provide.
You’ve got to leave your room.
If you’re hanging out in your room at the conference hotel instead of attending seminars, networking receptions, or going to the business fair, you’re totally missing the whole point of being at the conference. Get out there and meet people! Having a game plan worked out ahead of time for who you want to connect with, seminars or panels you want to attend, social events you must be seen at, and the like, will make your experience feel intentional and full of purpose. I generally try to pre-schedule about 50% of my time and leave the remaining 50% flexible for happy hours, meetings, or other opportunities that might arise once I’m there.
Pro Tip: Some conferences will tell you the attendees (at least their companies) in advance so you can plan better – always ask the conference organizers. Also, if you find out about an invitation-only event but you weren’t invited, reach out to the sponsoring company or host and request an invitation. This works especially well if you stop by their booth. It never hurts to ask!
Be prepared with what you need for successful networking.
First on the agenda – have your elevator pitch ready to go. You’re going to meet a lot of people and you need to be ready to tell them what you do quickly. Conferences can be grueling when you’re really working it – make sure you’re prepared to go the distance by wearing professional, yet comfortable, clothes and shoes, and carrying a bag that can handle your necessities for all day comfort, like bottled water, tissues, gum or breath mints, etc.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget business cards. Take twice as many as you think you’ll need and don’t be stingy handing them out. Challenge yourself to hand out 50 or 100 or however many would be a bit of a stretch for you.
Give Customers Some TLC.
A lot of times your customers will be attending the same conference you are. Use the opportunity for some face-to-face time and deepen that relationship. If you aren’t talking to your customers, someone else will be. Make sure you don’t lose out because you were too bashful to connect.
Don’t Lose Sight of Competitors.
Conferences are a great time to scope out the competition and find out how they’re marketing themselves to your target audience. Are they doing things you wish you were doing? Do they have better materials than you have? This is the time to find out.
Follow Through Afterward.
Conferences often represent an investment in entry fees, travel expenses, and hotel charges. Don’t let it go to waste!! Be sure you follow up with the great people you connected with and be open to the people who reach out to you afterward. You never know – one of those people may represent your next big business opportunity!